That Which I See Not Teach Thou Me, by Abraham Kuyper

7. That Which I See Not Teach Thou Me

The knowledge which you have of yourself, or of your inner existence differs according to its source; a part of it you acquired yourself, and a part of it you received from God.

If you ask wherein these two parts of your self-knowledge differ, then call to mind this difference. You diligently acquire knowledge of the good there is in you, whereas the evil that dwells in you must be brought to your remembrance and pointed out to you by God.

You see this in a child. The praise he receives is readily accepted and fondly cherished; but when he is corrected, he resents it, does not believe that he did wrong, and makes light of it. And he continues in this course until his conscience taught by God, awakens his self-accusation.

In later life, this goes on more covertly, but in reality the process is the same. The heart then is not so much carried on the tongue as in childhood’s years, though some succeed in making their inner life manifest to the eyes of others. But no sooner is the personal life disclosed to the ear of a friend, than the same result is reached. There is a part of our self-knowledge which we have acquired ourselves; but there is also another part, which we ourselves perhaps had neglected. but which through hard lessons in the conscience has been taught us by God. At times this difference is strikingly evident, because for the most part we begin not only by not seeking this instruction from the conscience, but by not desiring it, and we only submit to it when God inculcates this knowledge against our will.

In some instances God is obliged – we say it reverently – to force this self-knowledge upon people all their lives; they simply will not learn it; yea, and even worse than this, they deliberately reject a part of what God taught them about themselves, by forgetting it.

There are others, on the other hand, men and women who in all honesty want clear self-knowledge, and who sincerely seek to know the truth regarding themselves. Nathaniels, who do not court flattery, but shun it; who hate the false image of themselves which they see dimly in the glass, and who can not rest until they know themselves as they truly are. When God speaks in the conscience there is with them a willing, listening ear. They take this lesson of God as a warning, and they profit by it.

Add higher grace to this, and the gains will be still greater. Then the ear is not merely willing to listen when God speaks, but the lesson of God in the conscience is earnestly sought, and the level is reached of the pregnant prayer: “Aside from what I myself see and discover in myself, teach thou me, O God. ” (Job 34:32, Dutch Ver.).

You find these two parts of our knowledge in every domain. There is always on the one hand a part that we acquire ourselves, and on the other hand a part that God gives us.

To see is to observe, and commonly therefore we call this first part of our knowledge that which is founded upon observation. By the side of this stands another part of knowledge, which man never could have acquired of himself, but which God has taught him.

This is the case with all human knowledge. Everywhere and in all ages man observes, gains information, investigates, enriches his experience, and thus acquires a certain knowledge of nature and of life, which he turns into profit.

With respect to this, one nation has a keener eye, a finer ear, higher powers of invention and more perseverance; in consequence of which it makes greater strides in development. But in the main all this knowledge rests upon what man sees. It is founded upon observation. It is developed by thought.

In addition to this there is a further knowledge which God imparts directly, and in a twofold way. In the first place, by raising up among nations men of genius; and in the second place, by the grant of discoveries. Men of genius are creations of God which he bestows upon a people, and by these men of superior endowment human knowledge has been deepened and enriched in a measure such as would never have been possible without them.

The same is the case with the great discoveries, in which there is always a mystery; discoveries which open up entirely new realms of knowledge; discoveries which we owe to what unbelief calls chance, but which he who believes gratefully attributes to Divine appointment.

Here another thought presents itself.

When idealism is shown by individuals or peoples, that high aim is one of the strongest possible motives to seek after truth and knowledge. He who misses this idealistic sense may have a thirst for plain, materialistic knowledge, but the knowledge of the higher things in human life leaves him cold and indifferent. A money-fiend is an adept in the knowledge that promises gain; but what does such a gold-slave care for the higher knowledge of the nobler elements of our human life? As little as a deaf man cares for the wondrous creations of a Bach, or a blind man for the art of a Raphael or Rembrandt.

As this is true of individuals, so it is also true of nations.

When a people fail of this idealistic sense they degenerate into materialism and sensualism, and shut themselves off from all higher life. They make no advance and can not enrich other nations. They even deteriorate, and not infrequently in their own decline drag other nations down with them.

In this, one age may differ from another in the same nation. In the sixteenth century the Netherlands stood especially high and was an inspiration to all Western Europe. In the eighteenth century, on the other hand, they degenerated, and have in no way blessed other nations.

Whether such an idealistic sense operates strongly and inspiringly in a people, depends upon God. When He sends forth the breath of such higher aims upon a people, they begin to live for nobler ends, and become enriched with the knowledge of purer human existence. When He takes that breath away, understanding is dulled and all nobler knowledge fails.

Through this idealistic sense, God can draw a people unto Himself, and can communicate to them something of the warmth of His own Divine Life; but He can also withdraw Himself from a people, surrender them to themselves, and then they must pay the price of the loss of all higher and nobler knowledge.

So we arrive again at the same result. There is a part of our knowledge, which we, looking around and observing, have in our own power; but there is also a part of human knowledge, even a knowledge of a higher and nobler order which God alone imparts unto a people.

Apply this to yourself, to individual persons, and you feel at once that the knowledge which God brings springs by no means exclusively from the conscience, but altogether differently and on a far larger scale it comes to you partly from God’s counsel, and partly from the relation which He sustains to your spirit.

You may have been born of your parents and find much of them reproduced in yourself. Yet it is the Lord Who created you, and the formation of your person, together with your disposition, your character and predominating tendency is His work.

Hence, when you discover in yourself a thirst after higher knowledge, and a predisposition to nobler learning, the impulse that is born from this is an impelling operation of the Spirit of God in you, and thereby you obtain the fruit of a knowledge that does not come to you by your power, but by virtue of the higher impulse which He quickens and maintains in you.

Circumstances co-operate with this. You may have a friend whose nobleness of character becomes your inspiration. You may have experiences and contact with people which stimulates you to study higher things. Onerous duty, bitter grief, or grave responsibility may be laid upon you by which you make unusual advances. And again it is God alone Who appointed all this in your behalf.

But above all else, you may feel the rise of a strong drawing in yourself after God, so that He leaves you no rest, liberates you from earthly vanities, and in a mystical way makes you aware of an inward Divine insistence, which compels you to concern yourself with the higher things of life, causes you to mature therein, and over and over again enriches you with them.

If this be so, it is not you who have thus lifted up yourself to God, but it is God Who has thus drawn you up to Himself, even you, not someone else. Why you, and not another? This is a mystery. We know not.

Nevertheless the fact remains, that in this way you too possess two parts of your knowledge; that which you owe to your own sight and observation, that other and higher knowledge, which God has taught you.

This unfolds itself most richly when higher grace operates in your soul. Not that every grace-endued child of God advances thereby to such higher learning. Here too there is diversity of gifts. Some believers lack almost every capacity to enter into the mysteries of the higher life. Some practice mysticism along the way of the emotions, but continue limited in knowledge. Some acquire a wealth of learning regarding the way of salvation, but remain indifferent to the higher, nobler knowledge of human life. But there are others, too – and this is most glorious – who, of warm sensibility, rich mysticism, and clear insight into the knowledge of salvation come in addition to that inner unfolding which extends their knowledge to the nobler parts of human learning, and makes them not only deeply religious, but also men of exalted idealism.

Then such a one stands at the summit of the mountain of God’s holiness. A light above the light of the sun dawns upon his horizon, and his knowledge becomes that of the saints made perfect.

This goes hand in hand with the deepest sense of absolute dependence and a thirst after ever larger knowledge; a longing which utters itself in the prayer of God’s child: “O God, aside from what I myself see and discover, teach Thou me. Instruct me ever more in Thy holy fellowship.”

From To Be Near Unto God by Abraham Kuyper. Reproduced from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/kuyper/near.iii.vii.html (accessed July 16, 2014).

About Kyle Dillon

A teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), assistant pastor of theological instruction at Riveroaks Reformed Presbyterian Church, and theology/languages teacher at Westminster Academy in Memphis, Tennessee.

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